In the quiet backstreets of Adelaide’s south west, not far from Whitmore Square you will find Little Gilbert Street, upon which you will find Australia’s oldest surviving mosque.
Erected in 188-89, it was the first mosque to be built within an Australian City, and is still used to this day by local Muslim as a place of worship and socialising.
The Express and Telegraph newspaper described a visit to the mosque on June 30th1890 (page 3), describing the building as the following:
“On reaching the court shoes and boots were deposited on the ground, a small covered cloister was crossed, and the place of prayer was entered by a doorway looking to the east. It is an exceedingly plain, small roofed building whose whitewashed walls might recall those of a ”kirk” in some remote country district of Scotland.
Immediately opposite the entrance is a niche about 9 feet high, near the top of which is a bullseye window looking due west. This niche is the mihrab or kibla, and is supposed to show the direction of Mecca, as Christian churches do that of Jerusalem.
In the walls of the sanctuary are smaller niches, which do not reach to the ground, and where lamps and printed copies of the Koran are kept. On the floor are strips of matting, very necessary to prevent the feet of the faithful from feeling the cold while engaged in their devotions…”
… “Leaving the place of prayer, we resumed our shoes, and the mulla pointed to a large excavation which is being bricked up just in front of the cloister. This is the tank for the ablutions requisite before prayer. It will form the centre of the little court in front of the sanctuary, and the covered cloister, or liwan, will be extended so as to surround it on all sides.
The effect of the pillars, the mosaic pavement, and the water in the Centre, should then be very pretty, especially on a bright day, when the play of light and shadow will come in.”
It estimated that the building cost around $450 pounds (in 1888/89)
|Little Gilbert Street view of Adelaide Mosque – photo: ®2017 Allen Tiller
1to build, with large subscriptions tendered by active Muslims in Melbourne.
The initial interest in building the Mosque was headed by local man, Hadji Mullah, an Afghani man who had worked with the Overland Telegraph Line construction, moving material via camel through the outback.
|View through arches of Adelaide Mosque to garden and pool in 1937.
The Adelaide City council approved plans for the building of the Mosque in 1887. It took two years to construct a caretaker’s cottage, and the Mosque. Following that, small cottages were built nearby to house unemployed cameleers, hawkers and the retired cameleers who were now moving south after their work had finished in the outback.
In 1903, the impressi
ve minarets were added to the building, marking its place in Adelaide’s quiet, leafy back streets, and making the Mosque stand out, above the buildings around it.
The Mosque’s minarets underwent some repair work in the 1990’s after they began to flake and crumble.
Unfortunately, the Mosque has seen tragedy in its time, the first occurring in 1896 when four-year-old William Mahomed was found drowned in water tank in the mosque yard. It is possible he was murdered by a local man who sought revenge against the child’s mother for an earlier perceived indiscretion.
A near tragedy was averted between two old male worshipers in 1942. Two old cameleers One aged 70 (Izze Khan), assaulted another aged 87 (Sultan Mahomet) with a knife and an axe handle.
The fight began after an incident the day before, when a woman climb into the mosque from the window of an adjoining building, Mr Khan followed her into the kitchen and said to her “Lady, you go out and go home through the door.”
The lady then climbed out a window, and down a drain pipe, breaking the pipe on her exit.
The following morning the two men were in the Mosque, and began arguing over the incident. Khan then punched the older man in the face, went out to the shed, and came back brandishing an axe handle and knife, with which he beat Sultan mercilessly.
The older man spent three days in hospital with his injuries, and never fully recovered from the beating.
Today the building is still used for worship by local Muslims, and is often a feature in local history tours of the area. You can find it situated at:
22–28 Little Gilbert Street
© Allen Tiller “The Haunts of Adelaide”, 2017